Reprinted without permission from USA Today, May 21,
SOUNDGARDEN GETS 'DOWN' TO POWERFUL BASICS
Soundgarden, credited with expanding heavy metal's boundaries, returns to brash and basic hard rock on its fifth album, Down On The Upside (*** out of four), out today. By dispensing with special effects, Upside downplays the uproar of Superunknown, 1994's innovative dazzler. The Seattle band's shift to gritty, gut-instinct rock is a perfect appetizer for summer's hard-rock feast, led by Lollapalooza's four-headed monster or rock: Metallica, Soundgarden, Rancid and the Ramones.
Less fanciful and experimental than Superunknown, Upside compensates with sucker-punch immediacy and sonic v'erit'e that strips the music to its garage-level essence. For a band that's pushed the genre's envelope, the retreat is a letdown alleviated only by musical muscle, especially the ferocious wail of Chris Cornell.
Fueled by his trademark depression and fury, the 16 songs pulsate with pessimism, tone and tempo shifting abruptly from darkly introspective to darkly explosive.
Suicidal tendencies temper the rhythmic turbulence on "Tighter and Tighter" ("Everything is black," Cornell intones) and "Blow Up The Outside World," a primal rock purge. In "Zero Chance," Cornell declares he's "bound to die alone." And "Pretty Noose" finds him dwelling on bonds that imprison rather than liberate the heart.
Aside from sundry flourishes -- piano and Moog snythesizer on the creepy "Applebite," mandolin on "Ty Cobb" and trance-inducing guitar on "Switch Opens" -- Down On The Upside sticks to the basics, with the downbeat aimed squarely upside your head.